July 8, 2013
Cody Garren recently paid a follow-up visit to Abu Salaam,* a Syrian father of eight whose family was forced to flee their home. Abu Salaam demonstrates an unwavering sense of resilience, strength and hope despite all the challenges his family has faced.
Above: Cody with the children of Abu Salaam’s extended family.
It is July in north Jordan, not far from the Syrian border. We have just left the town of Mafraq for another visit with one of the Syrian families living within the host community on the out skirts of town. You can see the tents as the car turns off of the highway and down the sun baked road as the hot desert wind carries a seemingly unending barrage of sand and dirt across our path. There is a small handful of children playing among the tents and keeping a tribe of goats from wondering too far off as we park the car. As we get out of the car, two children slowly approach but keep their distance as one of the adults in the settlement comes to greet us.
His name is Abu Baydin* and he invites us into his tent where we sit down for a cup of coffee. Abu Baydin arrived here in Jordan with his wife and children in February of 2012. Through our discussion, we learn that he and his family followed his brother to north Jordan, where the spent the first four months sharing a prohibitively expensive apartment with other members of his extended family. After the forth month of living in the apartment, the prohibitively expensive rent forced the family group to seek shelter elsewhere. It was at this time that the first tents were erected in what has now become a small family based community. As the summer pushes further into July and the heat continues to rise, access to water continues to be a growing problem. At roughly 20 Jordanian Dinars a day (almost 30 dollars) to provide water for the settlement, it is still an ongoing struggle to provide drinking water let alone water to bathe and keep clean the forty-some children that inhabit this settlement.
Above: One of the grandchildren of Abu Salaam’s extended family.
“As you can see, it is very difficult to keep the children clean; especially with the dust and the dirt that the summer wind constantly carries. We could clean them every two hours, if we had the water, and still have a difficult time keeping them clean,” says Abu Baydin.
It was at this point that Abu Salaam* arrived back at the settlement to meet with us. His posture as he greets us strong and proud although the stress and tension is apparent in the muscles of his face. He removes his hat as he invites us into his tent, dislodging dust and dirt from what has already been a long day of labor for him.
Abu Salaam begins by telling us of how he and his family made their way from Homs to Jordan. Abu Salaam arranged for passports for each of his family members so they could make the trip legally from Syria to Jordan. There was no figure given but he expresses that the total was very expensive. It took them ten days from the issue of passports to their arrival in Jordan, leaving behind their home, their car, the family run business that had supported Abu Salaam’s family very well for over ten years and the lush, green community they had called home. He comments that the family business, handmade wool goods, foods, honey, olives, aborigine and other foods preserved in olive oil that could be stored for long periods of time, was successful and able to provide a very good life for him and his family. When Abu Salaam was asked if he expects to return to Syria in the future, his initial response is simple but carries a lot of weight.
“We have nothing to go back to. Our shop is no longer, our car has been burned our home, along with seven others belonging to brothers and cousins, have all been plowed over by bulldozers to create an area for the Army to set up their tents.”
Above: One of the tents that the members of Abu Salaam’s family live in.
Following this remark, the question of difficulties he foresees in keeping his family here in Jordan is put forward. There were two statements which did not take more than a moment to leave Abu Salaam’s lips; the first was the education of the children in the settlement.
‘’The most important thing is our children’s education. We want them to have access to an education that can provide the chance for a future but the current school system here is too crowded and there is no room for Syrian children to join classes.”
The second was the ability to find enough work to support the families. Right now it is forbidden Syrians to work in Jordan and when Syrians are able to find work under the table, they can only expect to earn 40 percent of the normal wage. If they are caught doing labor, they will only bring investigations and possibly time in prison into an already difficult situation for the families.
“It is a danger to work here. We have to remain hidden to maintain the security of our families and our livelihoods.”
As Relief International has watched this settlement grow over the months and with the continued struggle to provide water and food to what has seemed an ever expanding site, Abu Salaam is asked if he expects any future arrivals. He tells us that it is not possible for new arrivals here because there is no more family to join this community.
With this family centered tent community looking to dig in their heels and fight to survive here in North Jordan the subject of Ramadan, which is right around the corner, is brought up. For the briefest of moments, Abu Salaam seems lost in recollection before he tells us that he will not want to speak of Syrian Ramadan. The atmosphere of Ramadan is completely different in Syria, everything is hand made in Syria, and the food is fresh where here in Jordan, everything is processed.
“The food, the culture, the people; it was the perfect expression of what Ramadan is. Syria was well known for the way it celebrated Ramadan and, in the past, it was very common for Jordanians to travel to Syria to experience that. I don’t know what it will be like this year but we will make do with what we have.”
He tells us that there is a saying here in the Middle East- “Your eyes can see it but your eyes cannot touch it”. He will make arrangements to avoid the markets, to avoid seeing what he will not be able to touch or provide for his family.
His only response regarding Iftar is: “We will make this a good Fast and we will be satisfied with Iftar even if it is very simple. This is our destiny, even if what we have is very little.”
When asked if he believes he has made the right decision in bringing his family to Jordan, he does not hesitate in his response.
“We traveled for security. We don’t think about what will happen here-we don’t care about the atmosphere. We came from a place where women and children are killed. It was not a choice to travel here, not a decision, it was a need.”
He urges the world to take Syria as an example of what demonstrations and talk of freedom without patience and thoughts of security and safety. Here in Jordan, it is very secure, but the rush to demonstrations can lead to death and destruction for so many.
Above: Abu Salaam’s grandson and Cody.
“We need people with sympathy, who understand the problems we deal with every day. People who understand that even small help will go so far here.”
As this visit draws to a close, Abu Salaam makes the comment of titling their story “A Stricken Family”, as he speaks of hope. Saying that hope has to be practical and based on something that is real.
“Someone must speak to us and feel with us in order to help us. Many NGOs have built hopes for a future but none have come through, nothing has backed the promises of money or materials or water. Relief International has been the only one that continues to visit us as well as provide our families with assistance. RI has been the only NGO to give us hope- practical hope.”
*Names have been changed.
Join us and give Syrian families hope for a brighter future, donate here.
June 27, 2013
Meet Madina. Our field team in Afghanistan recently shared her story. We couldn’t help but be inspired by her resilience and motivation despite all the challenges she has faced. Read her story and learn how her life improved after she received a loan from her community’s ‘Sanduk’ (savings box) established through RI’s program.
“I am Madina, 35, and I live in the Chakhansoor District. My family left Iran and moved to Afghanistan around 30 years ago, at that time I was five or six years old.”
“At first I did not ask for money from the community savings box, but I changed my mind and I took the decision to ask for a loan from community savings box. I went to our Community Development Council (CDC) and asked to borrow money. The CDC savings box cashier told me they did not have enough money now because of the other loans, but they would ask the community members to contribute to the box and that two of their borrowers will start to repay as well. So after two weeks, the CDC chairperson sent a message to tell me that they have money to lend me. I borrowed 3,700 Afghani Notes (about 74 USD) and I agreed to pay back the amount in five installments during five months.”
Above: Madina and her family.
“I purchased Baluchi embroidery materials and three chickens. Now, the embroidery income is getting better. I also gather hen’s eggs and have hatched new chickens - I have 16 now. My daughters are also attending school with the other children in the village. I was able to receive a National ID card for myself and my children from Chakansoor District with the help of the CDC who had succeeded to establish an office for ID cards locally so we don’t have to spend money to travel to the provincial capital.”
“I would like to thank our CDC members and those who helped us in this hard situation. Our CDC members are very supportive and sympathetic; they are also honorable and respected in the community and they have understanding of how we can get the assistance we need.”
Relief International’s program strengthens links between the Afghan people and their local governments. This includes assisting local village governing bodies called Community Development Councils (CDCs). Through savings boxes established by CDCs, women such as Madina are given the opportunity to obtain loans to rebuild their livelihoods and sources of income. To learn more, please click here.
The Government Transparency Fund is funded by the UK government.
June 25, 2013
Our field team in Afghanistan recently shared the story of Omid, 12, a boy from Afghanistan who always dreamed of going to school. With help from his village’s Community Development Council (CDC), strengthened through the assistance of RI, Omid was finally able to attend school.
Above: Omid and his father.
“My name is Omid, I am 12 years old and live in Haji Shah Jan village in Kang District, in Nimroz Province. When I came back (to Afghanistan from Iran) and I saw the school in our village, I started crying and asked my parents to enroll me in the school. My mother convinced my father, she knew it was my dream. My father agreed and the day after he and I went to meet the head of the school.”
“The principal told us that because I was disabled and in a wheelchair, it would not be possible to enroll me in his school. He said they don’t register disabled children because it would be very complicated for both teachers and students, and said I didn’t need to study because I was paraplegic. My father and I insisted but the head of school refused. I cried a lot, first in front of the teachers and the principle and then on the way back home.”
“A year later, the members of our Community Development Council (CDC) asked the community members to attend a consultation meeting where the majority of the community was. The chairman encouraged the attendants to register their children in school. My father raised my case, saying he tried to enroll me in school but that the head of the school refused because I was disabled. The CDC said they just got trainings about disability from Relief International and that they learnt a lot about the rights of people living with disabilities, and that one of them is the right for education. He asked my father to be ready with me for the next morning, that he will go with us to visit the school.”
“The next morning, the chairman and deputy chairman of our CDC came, along with three other elders from our village. We all went together to the school and met the principal. He told us the number of students increased a lot, and because I was disabled it would cause a lot of problems for the teachers, that I would bother them and other students. Our community members argued rationally with the head of school, telling him what the rights of disabled persons were, the international agreements Afghanistan signed, and the duties of the government. They finally convinced him to accept me, as well as to enroll my young brother who is now helping me at the same time.”
Omid’s father tells local Relief International staff that Omid is happier since he has been attending school. The teachers and the principal have praised him for his hard work and Omid has become a role model to his peers and the community. Omid’s father is really thankful to his community and the CDC of his village for the support in helping his son realize his dream.
Relief International’s program strengthens the links between the Afghan people and their local governments (such as Community Development Councils CDCs ). Through our program, we have facilitated dialogues and training on the rights of disabled persons that has resulted in the founding of a disabled network in the Nimroz province and in government assistance to the disabled through hospital vouchers. To learn more about Relief International’s program, please click here.
The Government Transparency Fund is funded by the UK government.
June 14, 2013
Relief International’s Social Enterprise intern, Isabelle Savin De Larclause, reports from the field in Ghana where she is working with Gyapa Enterprises, a social enterprise initiative of Relief International. Isabelle offers an intimate look into the lives of the local Gyapa fuel-efficient cookstove manufacturers who are central to Relief International’s project.
I have been in Ghana so far for around three months, working with the Relief International social enterprise project, Gyapa Enterprises. The central product to the Gyapa Enterprises initiative is the Gyapa fuel-efficient cookstove. Gyapa Enterprises launched in 2002 with its Gyapa fuel-efficient cookstove, which reduces our customer’s charcoal consumption by up to 50 percent. This not only saves money but dramatically reduces household air pollution, one of the largest risks of disease in developing counties.
I have managed to visit most production sites around Ghana, and a lot of our retailers. A lot of exciting things have happened whilst I have been here, so it has been a great time to be involved in the project.
Above: Kwame making a Gyapa liner on his potter’s wheel.
Above: A Gyapa liner being formed.
One of the great things I love about the work that happens here in the Ghana is how we support local livelihoods. Through visiting producers of the Gyapa cookstove I have learnt about the different ways Relief International has supported them and helped to expand their business. When I went to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region, I visited Kwame, a ceramist. Through loans and grants, Kwame has been able to grow his production. A significant investment into Kwame’s business allowed him to become connected to electricity, which in turn doubled his monthly output.
Above: Ben, a site leader at a new metal manufacturing site in Sunyani that produces Gyapa cookstoves.
Above: The Sunyani manufacturing site. We have provided loans and grants to develop their site to become the centre of the Brong-Ahafo region’s Gyapa network. This has allowed for a new structure to be built which will allow for many workers to make the metal liners of our fuel- efficient Gyapa cookstove.
While I was in Kumasi, we also visited Ben in Sunyani, who will be our site leader at a new metal manufacturing site. Currently, we are closely working with a team of metal artisans in Sunyani located in the Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana. We are supporting their growth to become a leading production site of our Gyapa cookstoves. We have provided loans and grants to develop their site to become the centre of the Brong-Ahafo region’s Gyapa network. This has allowed for a new structure to be built which will allow for many workers to make the metal liners of our fuel efficient cookstove.
Above: Isabelle with local Relief International staff in Ghana.
To learn more about the Gyapa fuel-efficient cookstove and our Gyapa Enterprise initiative, please click here.
January 22, 2013
The Relief International team recently received this “note from the field” from a camp meeting in the Zam Zam Refugee Camp in Darfur, Sudan, where RI is helping women and families rebuild their livelihoods.
During a meeting of our staff and some members of the community in Zam Zam, the topic of the most important and basic needs of the people came up. This topic spurred a heated and passionate discussion among many of the women in Zam Zam. As they all sat in a circle, with enthusiasm, our staff member started jotting down notes as the women voiced their requests and their concerns about their community’s future.
Together, Relief International and the women of the Zam Zam Camp outlined these basic needs for us to take note of. Simply glancing at their needs, we are humbled.
Some of these basic requests are things that we take for granted as they are readily available to us here at home. Everyone in the world should have the right to these basic necessities. We share this list with you to highlight the resilience and strength of these women.
The note reads (translated from Arabic to the best of our capacity):
“In the name of God the Merciful”
“Demands of newly displaced people from the area of "immigrants" to the Zam Zam Camp”
“1 - Widening the narrow roads, at the time of fire, roads become dangerous
2 - Improving the level of health in the new camp
3 - Educating children and giving attention to adult literacy
4 - Building latrines in the new camp
5 - Building 5 [grain] mills and peeler (scaler)
6 - Providing building materials, blankets and tents
7 - Providing kitchen utensils and clothes”
8 - Providing groceries and food supplies due to the lack of firewood for cooking
9 - Provide generators for lighting the camp
10 - Providing drilling equipment
11 - Providing the basic essential needs of the people in their daily lives”
January 18, 2013
The Emergency Response Coordinator, Mary Ana McGlasson, reports from the field in the Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan, where Relief International is providing life-saving relief.
Syria. I don’t know why it grabbed my attention so quickly-with so many disasters and tragedies happening around the world simultaneously, why did this one weigh so heavily on my mind? In the wake of the Arab Spring, there were plenty of stories of triumph and tragedy, but somehow, I found this one occupying a lot of my quiet thoughts. In August, the total numbers of refugees went from a steady trickle to a full-blown population exodus, doubling the numbers of refugees fleeing regionally, and forcing countless Syrians to run for safety within the country’s borders. By September, it was widely believed that there was no safe place for civilians inside Syria.
In the photo above, Mary Ana and and a little girl she met while working in the Za’atari Camp.
In response to this rapid influx of refugees, I deployed to Jordan to assess the situation within the newly-built Za’atari Camp and urban communities of Jordan near the Syrian border. Despite working day and night with little sleep, I found myself with constant motivation, and an unexplainable connection to the 15-month old crisis. It felt so good to actually be doing something, instead of sitting by and watching what could be one of the greatest tragedies in recent history.
I have now spent most of the past several months on the ground here in Jordan. The refugees here are middle-class, primarily educated people. Until weeks or months ago, they had modern houses with cars, bathrooms, kitchens. Now they live in tents, in the cold and windy desert, with winter worsening every day. Many people have shoes that are worn through from a long and difficult journey and they have no winter clothes.
Each day, when I walk through the camp, I am always shocked by two things: the harsh conditions of the camp and the unwavering generosity and hospitality of the people living here. Despite living through incredible tragedy and violence, often losing more than a few family members along their treacherous journey, I was invited into countless homes and I drank literally dozens of cups of tea and coffee. Sitting and drinking tea and listening to stories of survival, while sharing a quiet moment of solidarity is certainly one of the most important things I can do with my time.
In many tents, mothers have fashioned small shrines with photos of sons, daughters, and husbands in the corner, and they share with me stories of separation or worse. They share openly about the things they have seen and experienced, and it is important for them to help me understand that just weeks or months ago, they were living in houses with bathrooms and nice kitchens. One woman, Hanna*, traveled to the camp without her husband, 8 months pregnant, and with four other children by her side. She explained to me that she finds it difficult every day to learn how to live without the support of her husband, and without running water, winter clothing, privacy, and a sense of safety. “I don’t know how to live like this- in Syria, I had a nice house, a car, and a big kitchen. Now I share a kitchen with 20 other families, and my children cry because they are cold at night.”
During the New Year, families took time to pause and be thankful, but always with the caveat that they hope in 2014 they will be celebrating again in Syria with reunited families. “Isha’allah,” or “God willing,” they say, with brave faces, choking back tears.
We can hope, together-we can all hope that the crisis is resolved and the Syrian people can return to their homes to rebuild and live peacefully. But in the meantime, Relief International is doing everything we can to reduce suffering and provide hope.
What would you do if you were traumatized, cold, and out of your element, in a foreign place, with only icy water to wash yourself? There are at least 3500 families (about 17,500 people) without sufficient hygiene items-soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, etc. Yet, you are not permitted to leave the camp to go to the normal market in the neighboring town, and while there is a substantial market growing up within the camp, the available cash to make purchases is extremely low, and the price of soap is relatively high (almost $5 per bar of soap, compared with an average daily wage of $10 per day for those few who can find paid work within the camp, which is probably less than 1 percent.)
All I can offer now is my own inexhaustible passion and labor for this cause, and a small bar of soap. They need shoes, socks, mittens, underwear…heaters, fuel, and hope.
To learn more about RI’s life-saving relief programs assisting Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, please click here.
*Name has been changed.
November 18, 2012
Senior Program Officer, Virginia Zaunbrecher, writes from Darfur, Sudan, about how Relief International programs are keeping people alive and helping them move on with rebuilding their livelihoods.
Darfur is a place that is stuck in the middle. There is still too much conflict for most people to return home, but there is too little conflict to garner public attention. As aid workers, we find ourselves trying to triage the situation, and at the same time look for opportunities to help people move ahead. Two of the people I have met so far exemplify this dynamic.
Relief International is a primary care provider for a population of approximately half a million people in North Darfur, including 164,000 displaced persons. When visiting one of our malnutrition treatment centers in the Zam Zam camp for displaced persons last week, I met 18-month-old Fatima. She was, bluntly stated, the most malnourished child I have ever seen. She was tested for appetite and fed ready to use therapeutic food—popularly known as Plumpy-Nut. She was also referred to the main state hospital 15 km away because she required substantial medical treatment, but that is an extremely long way for her mother to travel with her, especially given that there are other children at home that need attention.
When I visited again this week, I was told that Fatima’s mother had not taken her to the hospital—a “defaulter” in nutrition program terms. Relief International outreach workers are contacting Fatima’s mother and encouraging her to visit the RI clinic (closer than the main site hospital)—which is no small feat in this maze of 164,000 people. Relief International has plans to open a stabilization center that can treat malnourished patients in the Zam Zam camp by 2013, so children like Fatima don’t have to travel for life-saving services.
Above, Staff weigh malnourished children at Relief International’s nutrition center in the Zam Zam Camp.
Just a short distance away at the Hassenfeld Community Center, I met someone who exemplified how the people of Darfur are trying to move forward. Saida is a widowed mother of five, whose husband was killed in the conflict. She fled to the Zam Zam three years ago with her children when they were forced from their village by fighting. Saida’s leg is injured, so she is unable to work as a day laborer, which severely limits her options. Undeterred, Saida hopes to provide a better life for her children. While they are at school, Saida visits the library at the Community Center. She studies books on work skills and English to improve her chances of getting a job. When Relief International was stocking the library, we asked the community what kind of books would be most useful. It is telling that their first request was items that could improve the capacity of people to find work.
Above, Saida (right, dressed in black) uses the library at the Community Center in the Zam Zam camp along with other women displaced by conflict.
Relief International staff find stories like this throughout North Darfur, and our programs here reflect that. We provide basic life-saving health and nutrition services; at the same time we are developing a livelihoods program to help displaced people move forward, despite the challenging situation. And every day we hope we encounter fewer Fatimas and have the privilege to meet more Saidas.
RI’s programming in Darfur is supported by the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the Common Humanitarian Fund, and individual donors.
October 3, 2012
Development Director, Mark Dawson, reflects on his first visit to Relief International’s Ghana programs where he meet some unforgettable locals whose lives have been changed through Relief International’s innovative grassroots based approach to development.
I just returned from a trip to Ghana, where Relief International’s board of directors had their quarterly meeting and several opportunities for field visits. The Relief International staff, all local with a very few exceptions, are impressive: smart, devoted, hard-working, collegial, and proud to be a part of Relief International. It was a privilege to meet them and to see the fruits of their good efforts. As we traveled around, meeting many beneficiaries of our work, it was wonderful to witness the relationships that Relief International staff have with those whose lives we are working to improve. Their mutual affection and respect towards each other was always evident.
Above, children excited about Relief International’s visit to their school.
One afternoon we met Peter, who, for nine years, has been assembling and selling the cook stoves that Relief International’s EnterpriseWorks division designed and has so successfully marketed. His business has grown to one that now employs ten people, each of whom was clearly happy to have a livelihood. Upon meeting Peter I was immediately a fan, due to his endearing personality and loving management of his team. His plot of land, where the assembly of dozens of stoves takes place six days a week, is on the edge of a vast landfill. Acres and acres of refuse and waste surround Peter and his “boys.”
In the photo above, Peter Atta demonstrates to Development Director, Mark Dawson, and Advisory Board Member, Pamela Ogor, how he assembles the metal parts of a Gyapa cookstove.
Above, Peter and Pamela take a moment to smile for the camera.
Above, a ceramicist shows Relief International board member, Keith Allman, how to craft a ceramic liner for the Gyapa on the pottery wheel.
Along the perimeter of the dump we saw several merchants, each of whom had gathered his or her particular specialty: rubber, tin, glass, all of which would be sold to a recycler. As with Peter, I was amazed by how enterprising, industrious, and resourceful these people were, and by how they had transformed a landfill into a center of commerce.
In the photo above, a local Ghanaian school where Relief International hosts its hygiene and sanitation programs.
Above, children part of a hygiene club established by Relief International at their school. These children lead in the enforcement of healthy hygiene habits around their school and at home with their families.
Another lasting impression was the children. We had the chance to visit more than one school, where Relief International has water and sanitation programs. The students were articulate, bold, confident, and welcoming, with an insatiable desire to learn. They peppered with me questions: about Relief International, life in the United States, English vocabulary, the distance from Accra to Los Angeles, and whether I could visit their school every day. They introduced me to their “brilliant friend who is going to be president of Ghana one day;” another, who draws and paints beautiful pictures, and aspires to see his work in a museum; a soccer devotee, who quizzed me about my knowledge of famous athletes; and their math teacher, whom they adore. Their gratitude for Relief International was abundant. The spirited nature of these children animated my spirit, and even now a broad grin opens across my face as I think of them and remember their winning smiles.
In the photo below, the ambitious children who peppered Mark with questions about Relief International and life in America.
September 28, 2012
Relief International’s Social Enterprise Officer, Meagan Sutton, reflects upon her visit to the field in Ghana where Relief International’s EnterpriseWorks division has developed a locally based fuel-efficient cookstove manufacturing and distribution program.
I recently traveled to Accra, Ghana to meet our Gyapa Enterprises team and tour our production sites of the Gyapa Enterprises’ flagship product, the fuel-efficient Gyapa Cookstove. On the first day of the tour, we visited a manufacturer, Peter Atta, who has a small team of eight staff. To access his production site, we had to walk through a landfill until we approached a small banana plantation, a welcome break from the heaps of trash. In this limiting space, Peter and his team are able to produce about 10 percent of all Gyapa stoves on the market. When we arrived, Peter and a colleague were painting the stoves using a new machine that sprays paint onto the stoves, saving time over hand-painting. They stack the stoves one on top of the other for efficient spraying.
The photo above shows Gyapa Cookstoves in midst of the manufacturing process.
Later that day, we visited Addison in North Kaneshi in Accra. Addison is a ceramist who produces liners for the stoves and sells them to Peter. Addison joined Gyapa in 2006 and is a ceramist by trade, having exported pottery to Europe in his past. Addison uses a mechanized press he built himself that presses the liners into the appropriate mold. He typically produces 1500 to 2000 liners per month.
In the photo above, clay being prepared for the Gyapa cookstoves.
It was absolutely inspiring to meet both Peter and Addison, and to see the hard work and perseverance behind the quality and success of the Gyapa stove. The Gyapa stove not only improves indoor air quality and saves money for its users (among other benefits), but the localized producer network provides livelihoods to 450 manufacturers and 5 ceramist teams. We are always looking for ways to support our producers’ businesses through capital loans and training, and it was highly rewarding to meet Peter and Addison and observe their successful production.
A woman using her Gyapa Cookstove.
June 5, 2012
Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, reports from the field in Myanmar. This time Duncan gives a background on Burmese life and culture to create an understanding of modern Myanmar.
Understanding modern Myanmar (aka Burma) and Relief International’s efforts to facilitate long-term initiatives in health care, food sustainability and education requires basic knowledge of Burmese life and culture.
More than 80 percent of the population in Myanmar practices Buddhism. Most believe in an orthodox practice called Theravada Buddhism. Theravada, considered the practice of the elders or ancient ones, is also common in the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
Monastic life for young people in Myanmar is much like a spiritual rite of passage in other nations. Most boys and girls, often as young as ten, enter monastic life for a period of time to learn and to meditate. Young monks in particular, participate in daily begging rituals, but with an important twist: the monks beg so others can give. It’s not uncommon to see orange-robed monks or pink-robed nuns at meditation centers, monasteries, temples or simply walking in the communities throughout Myanmar.
The photo below shows young monks begging.
The most well-known spiritual sites in Myanmar include the Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and the fabled ancient Buddhist temples of Bagan.
The photo below shows the Bagan Temple ruins.
Located south of the capitol city of Yangon (aka Rangoon), is the delta region where most of Relief International’s programs are underway. Most people in the delta region make their living on fishing and farming. Rice is a major crop in the region and part of the Relief International team is working on sustainable agricultural initiatives including educating farmers about new hybrids of rice and best planting practices.
A Burmese fishermen pictured below.
The landscape of Myanmar varies from mountainous to the dry central plains to tropical areas in the south. Most farming techniques are still small scale and hand-powered and currently Myanmar offers very little in terms of agricultural export. Still, the country’s resources are vast and the open-air markets in Yangon offer a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and fish.
The photo above shows a vendor at the Yangon market.